Arthritis Diet

Arthritis is a medical term which literally means inflammation of a joint or joints.

Inflammation is a destructive process. It is a natural reaction by your immune system against foreign matter or excess waste matter in your tissues. In your joints, the type of damage caused by inflammation may be known as osteoarthritis or as rheumatoid arthritis. In osteoarthritis, the joint’s protective cartilage slowly wears away. In rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation aggressively attacks the joint, leaving behind scar tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis is related to lupus and Sjøgren’s, which can also include more widespread inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Sjøgren’s disease are also referred to as ‘auto-immune’ diseases because your own immune system produces the inflammation which destroys your body’s own tissues.

Other diseases of the joints include Paget’s disease, and ankylosing spondylitis, which affects the spine.

How does arthritis start?

Inflammation begins with a trigger of some kind–anything which brings white blood cells known as macrophages to the scene. Macrophages are attracted by particles which ‘should not be there’. For instance

  • Bacteria, parasites, yeast cells
  • Debris produced by physical or toxic injury to tissues
  • Leakage of blood proteins from the capillaries into the surrounding tissues
  • Partly undigested food particles which have passed from the gut into the bloodstream
  • Cells which look abnormal (e.g. cancer cells)

Macrophages produce cytokines–chemical messengers which stimulate the production of enzymes to ‘clean up’ these waste proteins. One of these enzymes is collagenase (literally = ‘collagen-destroying enzyme’). Unfortunately collagenase is not able to discriminate between unwanted proteins in the area and the collagen in your joint cartilage and other tissues.

Inflammation should cease when macrophages have completed their task. So if inflammation becomes chronic, this strongly suggests that some kind of trigger is constantly present. Table I suggests some potential sources of chronic triggers.

Table I: Triggers of Chronic Inflammation
Type of trigger Chronic effects Diseases which can be produced
Micro-organisms Some (e.g. Candida albicans) can colonize organs and tissues. Intestinal dysbiosis (too many toxin-producing bacteria) causes gut inflammation; the toxins can also enter the systemic blood stream. Lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS, gum disease.
Debris from injuries and from toxic insult (e.g. smoking) Joints protected by inadequate cartilage will be under constant traumatic stress. Acid crystals deposited in joints can be abrasive. Osteoarthritis, vasculitis, emphysema, non-viral hepatitis
Capillary leakage Deficiencies of B vitamins, flavonoids and vitamin C can make capillaries permanently susceptible to injury and leakage. Osteoarthritis, varicose veins
Undigested food particles These can cause inflammation in the colon. A leaky gut wall can allow particles to get from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. These form circulating immune complexes (CRCs) which lodge in organs and tissues and attract macrophages. Colitis, coeliac disease, IBS, nephrotic syndrome, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, sinusitis, eczema, cystitis.
Cells or tissues with abnormal appearance Mutated cells and undifferentiated (cancerous) cells result from toxic injury. Some toxins which cannot be eliminated from the body may become incorporated into the structure of cells and tissues, making them look abnormal to the immune system. Cancers, auto-immune diseases

Conventional treatments

Osteoarthritis is mostly treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (“NSAIDs”). These are basically painkillers such as aspirin and its relatives. In advanced cases joints may be surgically replaced. Rheumatoid arthritis is also treated with NSAIDs. For those who do not respond, steroids may be prescribed. Other drugs which may be prescribed include gold, penicillamine, sulphasalazine and drugs to suppress your immune system. All these drugs have damaging side effects.

How nutritional therapy can help arthritis

Many books have been written on natural treatments to combat arthritis. They all have something to contribute to the subject, but choosing a regime that works for you is a minefield. Using modern scientific knowledge of the inflammatory processes involved in arthritis Linda Lazarides has designed a regime combining tradition and science to produce the best chance of success. For instance, we now know that some foods and drinks can encourage inflammation e.g.

  • Diuretic drinks: tea, coffee, alcohol, due to their dehydrating effect. Chronic dehydration shrinks cartilage, making joints more susceptible to injury.
  • Excess salt raises histamine, a substance which makes capillaries leaky and promotes swelling.
  • Meat and dairy products. Excess protein in the diet leaves an acidic residue in the tissues. Also, these are the only food sources of arachidonic acid. Avoiding food sources of arachidonic acid achieves exactly the same purpose as the new COX-2 inhibitor drugs used to treat arthritis. The COX-2 enzyme makes inflammatory prostaglandins from arachidonic acid.
  • Poorly digested food particles (e.g. gluten, dairy protein) passing through an inflamed intestine into the bloodstream are a major source of circulating immune complexes. These can trigger histamine release, which makes capillaries leak excess plasma into the tissue spaces. The result is chronic fluid retention which pressures joints and attracts macrophages. This so-called “food intolerance” reaction is frequently wrongly diagnosed as osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis.

All the above foods must be eliminated in the early stages of an anti-arthritis diet (they can later be tested). For a certain proportion of people, this will provide an instant cure for their arthritis. For others, especially those with advanced dysbiosis (a lot of toxin-producing bacteria in their small and large intestines), improvements will require additional measures:

  • Intensive treatment with herbs and laxatives to clear dysbiosis from the crevices of the small intestine and impacted faecal matter from pockets in the colon wall
  • Massage and manipulation to encourage good circulation and lymphatic drainage
  • Anti-inflammatory, tissue-restorative foods and supplements
  • If necessary, deep tissue cleansing routines to extract old wastes stored in the tissue spaces

Natural painkillers can also be used.

Click here for more information about nutritional therapy.

Linda Lazarides is Course Director of the School of Modern Naturopathy and author of eight books on health, nutrition and naturopathy.

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